Summary: Sermon highlights joy in the midst of pain, defines the Latin word Gaudete. Reflection on the difference between joy and happiness.
Grace be to you and peace from the One who was, and is,
and is to come. Amen.
Today is the third Sunday in Advent, which was
historically called Gaudete Sunday, from the Latin word for ‘rejoice’. Gaudete Sunday is the Sunday, if we had a pink candle in our Advent wreath, that we would light the pink candle, rejoicing in the coming Savior and King. Pink is more celebrative and joyful than the penitent and royal purple of the other three candles. All of today’s lessons address the theme of joy and rejoicing, but specifically, I want to highlight Paul’s
message to the Thessalonians: "Rejoice always".
This first letter to the Thessalonians is one of Paul’s
first writings we have in scripture. Rejoice always, he says. Rejoice always – whether washing dishes, folding laundry, cleaning the toilet, sitting in traffic. Does Paul really mean it? “Rejoice always!” Always? How can we rejoice always? Bad things, evil things, terrible things happen all around us. Little things, big things. tragic things, annoying things. How can we rejoice? Let me make this clear: Paul is not suggesting that everyone should go around with a forced smile on their face, acting as if everything is okay. He is not saying that
suffering does not come to those who are faithful believers in Christ. Paul himself faced suffering, persecution, health difficulties. It would be unrealistic for Paul to suggest that Christians ought to forget every difficult moment or trial in their lives, acting as if they didn’t exist.
What Paul says is “Rejoice always.” Rejoice has the word
joy as its root. Joy, true joy, is deeper than a painted on smile. It is based on more than just our fickle feelings. Our feelings can be up and down with each passing moment, and happiness can come and go just as quickly. Experiencing true joy, being able to rejoice always, is a gift from God, given in spite of circumstances. No matter what happens – good, bad, and
everything in between – Christ is with us to see us through it. This doesn’t mean that life won’t hurt, but that even in the midst of the hurts, we can rejoice because God is still good. ‘Rejoicing always’ really means leaning toward the joy rather than the pain, and asking God to deliver us the rest of the way so we can rejoice always. This joy is not something we can
manufacture if we tried. We can’t make ourselves experience it or force ourselves to “rejoice”, but we can choose to move toward the gift that is given.
Robert Waldrop, of the Oscar Romero Catholic Worker
House in Oklahoma City, tells the story of a woman named Audrey Jones, born in 1908 in Boley, Oklahoma. She has lived in poverty her whole life, with very few material goods. She has neither running water nor natural gas service at her rural Oklahoma home. She has no reason to expect those things to be available to her anytime soon. And yet, when Mr. Waldrop and others took Ms. Jones a birthday cake and some food provisions on her 81st birthday, she was remarkably upbeat and grateful. Ms. Jones spoke to them from her 81 years of wisdom, saying, “You know times are always going to be hard, bad things are always going to be happening to you, so you might as well just trust in the good Lord and have a positive attitude about everything."
Although it’s not easy to rejoice always, Advent is a
good time to reflect on the things we can rejoice about. If something is blocking you from experiencing joy, figure out what it is and remove it! Most of the time our joy gets stolen from the inside out instead of the other way around. Usually we are the ones who quarantine ourselves from the joy. Find a way to let joy into your life – bit by bit. Do something that will bring someone else joy. Visit a member of our church who is homebound. Give a heartfelt gift to someone who’s not expecting
it. Offer to help your neighbor by shoveling their snow. Laugh at the stupid joke a second grader tells you. Do something positive to bring someone else a little joy, and you might just find that joy turning back on you and bringing you joy in the process.
I had a conversation with a friend this week who was
heavy with anxiety. Some difficult relationships in her life seemed overwhelming; health struggles of her family members appeared to be too much to handle; her job requirements looked impossible. She hardly felt like facing another day, much less rejoicing because Jesus is coming at Christmas. Every day something else happens to derail her happiness. Even little celebrations quickly turn into problems. My friend seems to have lost the ability to rejoice, seeing only the dark horizon and